A very low-tension lifestyle

I caught one of the rats thoroughly unconscious on their designated al fresco sleeping porch (i.e., the top of their cage) the other day. I keep a blanket draped over the top, and he was conked out in one of the folds, on his back, little rat feets in the air. The only thing missing was a tiny hand-lettered sign that said TUMY RUBZ HEER with an arrow pointing down at the dark spot on his belly.

(Their cage is almost never closed. Lazy couch-potato male rats are seriously the least escapingest pets I have ever had. The top of the two doors is held out like a little balcony by a piece of sturdy elastic, and they have a cloth ramp pinned along the corner. They like lolling around on the roof of their house; I like being able to pet them whenever I walk by without having to fuss with the cage latches. Nothing says 'I love you' to a rat like sticking both of your hands into his house and squashing him in various directions for a while.)

He slept the comfortable sleep of a domesticated creature who has never heard of the food chain. And if anyone ever tried to tell him, he would be distracted by the concept of an entire chain made of food before you got the real idea across.

I think of the rats as my tiny irresponsible stoner roommates. I have to pay their share of the rent and clean up after them, because God knows they're not going to do it, but in return they provide me with untold hours of entertainment -- usually between about 10pm and three in the morning -- and take care of any leftover Chinese food that would otherwise turn green in the back of the fridge. They're driven by more or less the same things that would drive any college student who lacked the opposable thumbs necessary to work an Xbox controller.
  1. Free food
  2. Cheap toys
  3. Hanging out with their buddy rats
  4. Sleep
  5. Booze
I cannot emphasize that last one enough. Most domesticated animals will sniff at liquor and then give you an accusing look, as if to say, "But I thought you were giving me food." Some of them will drink cocktails, if the drink is sweet enough to cover the taste of the alcohol.

Not rats. Have you ever wondered why scientists use rodents in so many substance abuse experiments? It's because all they have to do is stand in the middle of the lab and announce, "We need to run a study on long-term alcoholism. Are there any volunteers?" and all the laboratory rats in the building fling themselves at the front of their cages squeaking OH ME ME PICK MEEEEEE! I have actually had rats who made it abundantly clear that they didn't think orange juice was food, but who fought over screwdrivers.

I am convinced that there is a single neuron somewhere in the back of the rat brain whose sole function is to detect nearby booze. If you open a beer anywhere in the room where the houserats live, they will all immediately wake up and their pointy noses will follow said beer around like tiny fuzzy dowsing rods. They climb the walls of their cage, stepping on each other's faces, trying desperately to be the closest they can possibly get to your grainy alcohol.

Three rats can get their faces into one standard shotglass, if they're really determined and there is still some strawberry rum left in the bottom. Trust me.

Rats will generally drink until they're tipsy and then stop, which automatically makes them smarter than many undergrads I have known. They chitter constantly -- that's the chewing-on-nothing, happy-rat! noise -- and fall off of shit. (Well. More than they normally do.) Drunken rats luuuuuuuuuuurve you. They lurve everybody.

When they start to sober up, they scuttle off to drink huge amounts of water and sleep it off in the inside of a dark nest box. Rats are also big fans of traditional drunk foods like kebabs and cold pizza, but that's independent of their dipsomania. They like spicy things particularly, only slightly less than they like booze; I've had rats who would drink super-hot taco sauce out of a shoyu dish, and the current Bridge Crew is, right at this moment, face-down in a dish of Thai curry.

Nor do rats confine their love of being happy little wastoids to ETOH. These guys snurfle allergically around the same times I do, and as it happens, they get the same medication I do -- diphenhydramine, un-stuffer of noses and un-sneezer of sneezes, comes in a liquid suspension, which is just about the only way to give them the correct dose. (Rats can have almost all of the same medications as humans -- who do you think we test these things on? -- but the difficulty in getting 1/100 the people-dose rules out using most OTC tablets and capsules.) It tastes like glycerin and makes them woozy. They would drink the bottle if they could get at it, which is why they can't.

If anyone feels the need for more rat in their life, you can go check out 4 Rats, 1 Bag, my one concession to the whole tumblr thing, where I put up pictures of my various furry things.